How doing a compressed work week allows career progression, flexibility and work/life balance – read Marisa Dellaca’s story

Marisa Dellaca holding her two children

Marisa Dellaca is Global Head of Research and Business Intelligence at law firm, Ashurst in Sydney.

I recently spoke with Marisa Dellaca, Global Head of Research and Business Intelligence at law firm, Ashurst in Sydney about how she works compressed hours, a flexible work arrangement, that enables her to work five days across  four and half, including some evenings, giving her  one day per week at home with her children. 

Marisa got in touch with me via Instagram to share her story about working compressed hours. We shared a lot of the same views around the pros and cons of compressed hours – which is what I did in my role at Westpac Banking Corporation – such as enjoying working in a full time role; saving on childcare costs and achieving more work/life balance. 

Our interview is below – thank you to Marisa and the team at Ashurst to talk about this flexible work approach, or you can watch it here [NB link with view to watch not yet available – currently in post-production]

Olivia: Hi Marisa and thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about doing a compressed work week. I’d love if you could please introduce yourself:

Marisa: Yes sure, my name is Marisa. I am the Head of Research and Business Intelligence team at Ashurst, which is a global corporate law firm. I lead a team across Australia, the UK and Europe. I’m currently on maternity leave with my second baby.

Olivia: Marisa, when you returned from maternity leave you started doing a compressed work week or ‘compressed hours’. I’d love to hear about how you first started doing those and how you negotiated it with your employer.

Marisa: Sure, so I started doing a compressed work week when I returned from maternity leave after having my first baby in 2019. 

Prior to this – when I was four months pregnant – I was promoted to the Global Head of Research and Business Intelligence. A lot of my role required me to do calls in the evenings with our global team and various team members, mainly in the UK and Europe.

I quickly realised that I probably couldn’t maintain that schedule when I returned to work with a young baby and I’d just been given this fantastic opportunity that I’d worked really hard for – so I wanted to continue to work full time when I returned. 

That’s when my manager and I discussed a Compressed Work Week – it meant that I could work in a more flexible way such as being available for calls in the evening, and then I could have a day at home with my daughter. 

And I negotiated that really as part of my discussions with my employer around returning to work. And they were really supportive from the get go. So that was really fantastic.

Olivia: That sounds great. I’m interested to know, how long did it take you to adjust to working compressed hours? For me, I’d say one of the cons of a compressed work week is that it does take time to adjust. 

Marisa: Yes I agree. It did take a long time to adjust to working in a compressed week and in a different work pattern. 

From my perspective, it probably took me a good six months to adjust. 

And to be honest, it’s something that I will always be tweaking and will continue to adjust – looking at my time, energy and how to be the most productive with my time. 

I’ve tried to shift my work around so that in the morning I do more focused tasks. In the evenings, it’s administrative work, calls and meetings. 

Switching my day around and doing less emails in the mornings has been a big change – and that’s helped me to get the most out of my day. 

Olivia: That sounds fantastic and really productive. A couple of the misconceptions that I hear about compressed work weeks is that you’ve negotiated it, you can just do it, or on the other hand, it’s way too hard. I’d love to hear your views. 

Marisa: From my perspective, it’s really been about focusing on a shift in my mindset to really focusing on what does my output need to be, what my deliverables need to be, rather than when am I at work.

I do find that I have to take a lot more ownership, manage my time carefully and get clear on my outputs. 

I don’t think that it’s too hard to do a compressed work week, as long as you’re prepared to be flexible and to make compromises throughout the journey and be really clear on what you’re able to accomplish and contribute in your time. 

Sometimes things will happen on your designated day off and you need to be flexible around this too. 

Olivia: Yes I agree with you. And tell me, what are some of the benefits that you’ve experienced? 

Marisa: For me avoiding burnout when I was working in a full time capacity including in the evenings and being a working parent juggling it all. 

Additionally, I’ve worked hard to get to this position and I wanted to contribute to Ashurst at 100% and working a compressed work week allows me to do that. 

But I also want to be a present parent and it’s enabled me to be home and have a precious day at home with my daughter and be able to spend that really quality time with her.

The other benefit is of course financial – in saving on childcare costs and maintaining my full time salary. 

I think one of the risks is working part-time but in reality, you’re actually doing a full time job and you’re only being paid 60 or 80 percent. 

Olivia: Yes that’s so true, it’s something that I hear often. Is there anything else you’d like to share, or advice on doing a compressed work week? 

Marisa: Yes, one of the lessons I’ve learned is getting comfortable with communicating with both internal and external stakeholders. 

At first I felt quite hesitant about communicating what my week would look like and when I would be available and when I wouldn’t be available and I think particularly in response to covid, a different way of working is far more widely accepted. 

And so my lesson learned was to not hesitate around how I communicated when I’m available and to make sure I’m really up front about that and make those expectations clear for my stakeholders. 

That’s been a big lesson learned and something I’ll try to do better and more of when I return to work again. 

Olivia: That’s great, thanks Marisa, that’s really helpful advice. Well, thank you so much for your time and I really appreciate you sharing your journey and also to Ashurst for supporting this interview as well.